WDAY.com

WDAZ: Your Home Team

Published April 15, 2011, 04:07 PM

Spring Runoff Swells Devils Lake

North Dakota's largest natural lake is expected to expand this year by 40,000 acres from heavy snow runoff and other moisture, a state Water Commission official said Friday.

By: James MacPherson, Associated Press

(AP) — North Dakota's largest natural lake is expected to expand this year by 40,000 acres from heavy snow runoff and other moisture, a state Water Commission official said Friday.

Devils Lake, in northeast North Dakota, was measured at a record 1452.34 above sea level on Friday and could hit a level of 1454.8 feet by late May or early June, the National Weather Service said.

Across the state, river systems fueled by spring runoff either had reached crests or were building up to them on Friday. In the northwest North Dakota town of Burlington, authorities said the swollen Des Lacs River that threatened to flood a neighborhood in town had receded enough that it would stay in its channel if a fragile dam breached.

In Valley City, in southeast North Dakota, temporary dikes were being raised Friday, after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said it had to increase releases from the Baldhill Dam on the Sheyenne River north of town to keep Lake Ashtabula from overflowing.

The National Weather Service said north-flowing Red River crested in Grand Forks on Thursday at 49.82 feet, the third-highest on record. The Red crested at 50.2 ft., and in 1997, it was 54.35 ft.

Grand Forks was devastated by flooding in 1997. But residents have been protected ever since by a $410 million flood protection system.

Mark Ewens, a weather service data manager in Grand Forks, called the third-highest crest in the city "a non-event because of the measures taken post-1997."

Elsewhere in the state, rising water has been eventful.

Bruce Engelhardt, an assistant Water Commission engineer, said the expansion of Devils Lake this year will come largely at the cost of cropland. Engelhardt did not know how many homes would be affected by the rising lake.

Years of wet weather have caused the 285-square-mile lake to triple in size and increase in depth of more than 30 since the early 1990s, flooding homes, roads and fields. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent to help residents battle the water.

A water outlet on Devils Lake's west end pumps excess water into the Sheyenne River, which flows through southeastern North Dakota, including the cities of Valley City and Lisbon which are bracing for high water.

Engelhardt said the outlet won't be operating until Sheyenne River levels lower.

"It needs to drop a lot before we add any water to it," he said.

Weather Service spokesman Ewens said the Sheyenne River at Valley City had crested at 20.55 feet on Thursday and had dropped to 20.28 feet on Friday.

A controlled release of the Baldhill Dam could push the Sheyenne River to a record level in Valley City of 21.3 feet on Tuesday, said Col. Michael Price, commander of the Army Corps of Engineers' district office in St. Paul, Minn.

Price said the Corps and the city would have dikes in town raised from 22.5 feet to 24 feet before then.

The Sheyenne River in Valley City hit a record 20.6 feet in 2009, eclipsing the previous mark of 20 feet set in 1882. The high water two years ago caused the city's sewer system to fail and residents were asked to evacuate. Hundreds of portable were stationed throughout the city for nearly two weeks while residents waited for the river to retreat.

In Lisbon, downstream from Valley City, the Sheyenne is expected to crest at 21 feet on Thursday, the weather service said. The river level was at 17.56 feet on Friday.

Price, of the Corps of Engineers, said the crest forecast would likely increase because of the planned release at the Baldhill Dam upstream. He said the agency would assist the city in raising dikes to handle the increased flows.

Tags: